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Agony and Irony
30.5 || shafinnasr

The Champions League final was the most bitter night I can remember as a Milan fan. The Euro 2000 final between Italy and France comes close and I’m sure Paolo Maldini agrees. This game was particularly agonizing because Milan played so well and were clearly the better side for 114 minutes; the remaining 6, unfortunately, cost them the title. Milan’s first half performance was almost too good to be true; Kaka’s sublime through ball to set up Crespo’s second goal was sheer poetry and Crespo’s finish equally delightful. However, from the very beginning there was something slightly bizarre about the game: Paolo Maldini scores? In the first minute nonetheless? AC Milan 3 up at half time? It began unbelievably well, but the in the second half it all started to feel like a bad dream.

The final was not without its little ironies either. The Milan captain scored Milan’s first goal; the Liverpool captain did the same, with an uncharacteristic header, for his team in the second half. And Dida, normally so reliable between the posts, failed to keep out Smicer’s speculative drive from distance – a shot he would’ve normally parried around the post. Alonso’s third for Liverpool was sheer agony for Dida: he did not deserve to see the ball sit up nicely for Alonso to smash home on the rebound, after producing a fine save. The biggest irony of the night of course, was Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty miss. Two years after winning the Champions League for Milan with the final kick of the game, he effectively lost it for them with the final kick of the game this year. The double save by Dudek from Shevchenko in extra time was also strange; Shevchenko, widely considered to be the deadliest finisher in the game, is the one person in the world that all Milan fans would have wished the rebound from the first shot to fall to. But we all know how that turned out.

Milan did not deserve to go out of the Champions League after the way they played in the final; if Milan was destined to be knocked out they should have been eliminated in the semis against PSV where they played poorly enough to deserve elimination. However, luck was with Liverpool on the night. Although there have been complaints about Shevchenko’s disallowed first half goal and about Dudek coming far off his line to make saves in the shoot out, it must be admitted that Liverpool showed extraordinary spirit and self belief. A lot of this fighting spirit must have come from Liverpool’s relative lack of success in recent years, having gone from being the dominant club in Europe in the 70’s and 80’s to non-contenders in their own domestic league. Perhaps Milan lacked the same hunger for success; maybe it is not a coincidence that Milan’s best performers in the game, Kaka and Crespo, have not won a single Champions League title yet, while a lot of their other teammates have. Milan’s strategy of using experienced and successful players may have had the unintended result of reducing hunger for success, which may be a reason why their Scudetto and Champions League challenges petered out in the end. This would suggest that a shakeup of the squad is needed and younger, hungrier players need to be brought in: players like Kaka, who played an awesome game and had me jumping up and down when he smashed home his penalty and who thoroughly deserved a winner’s medal around his neck at the end of the night. Perhaps we’ll see him get it next season.

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