Wednesday, May 02, 2007

AC Milan Routs Man Utd -- A.C. Milan has secured a berth in the finals of the European Champions League, with a thorough 3-0 drubbing of Manchester United. The game began in a driving rainstorm in Milan. Milan dominated the first ten minutes, and Seedorf nearly gave the Italian team a 1-0 lead in the first minutes. Van der Sar made a terrific reaction save to direct Clarence Seedorf's blast over the crossbar. The home team grabbed the early leg up, an fine strike by Kaka, coming in the eleventh minute. Kaka took a back-pass header from Seedorf, at the top of the box, and struck a left-footed drive across his body, that beat Edwin van der Sar, the Manchester United goalie.

That first goal gave Milan the lead in the game, and the lead in the series. Though the teams were even at 3-3 in the aggregate, Milan would have advanced on away goals. With Milan already leading on Kaka's goal, Seedorf got his goal, about a half hour into the match, when he intercepted a wayward pass, stepped around a defender and beat van der Sar with a rocket to the corner.

Kaka's goal put Milan in the catbird's seat, but Seedorf's shot may have given United too big a challenge to overcome. Manchester United need to score twice, but one goal seemed too much for a United side that could not seriously threaten the Milan goal. United struggled badly, both on offense and defense. They had but one real shot on goal, which came in the 20th minute, when Ryan Giggs tested Dida. The final goal came late, on a breakway by Alberto Gilardino, but the game already seemed well out of United's reach.

Two days ago, the football world was anticipating a Champions League final that would pit Chelsea against Manchester United, the two teams that have dominated the English competitions this year. In a stunning reversal, these two teams, with the highest payrolls in the sport, were both badly outplayed by their opponents, and shown the door. Milan advances to the Champions League final, on May 23, in Athens, against Liverpool. The game will be a rematch of the 2005 final, which saw Liverpool rally to overcome a 3-0 deficit, with three goals in six minutes, finally beating Milan 4-3. As they were two years ago, A.C. Milan will be the favorite, but Liverpool certainly has the capability to give Milan a much stronger test than they faced tonight against a depleted and disorganized Manchester United side.

'Extra Time' Notes -- I anticipate that I will post an entry on the Champions League final, and maybe another post or two on the final days of the English football season. I will be turning my focus almost exclusively to American sports, and politics -- with the occasional comment on world affairs.

Tomorrow night, D.C. United plays at RFK, against the New England Revolution. One might have looked forward to the game as an opportunity for United to avenge its loss to the Revolution in last year's MLS Eastern Conference final. However, the game means even more than that to United. The preseason favorite to take league championship honors, United has lost its first three games, and looked fairly inept in doing so, in both ends of the field. Only the expansion club, Toronto FC, has a worse record. There is considerable pressure on the players and the coaching staff to right the ship, but they can expect a good crowd rooting them on. See you all there.

One last note -- FIFA President Sepp Blatter has identified four countries that would be considered as replacements to host the 2010 World Cup, should South Africa fall short in its preparations to host the tournament. The United States, Mexico, England and Australia are the possible destinations, because they each have the necessary infrastructure in place. The real significance of the announcement is that it is the first official indication that FIFA is, at least, considering contingency plans, rather than issuing solid, unwavering commitments to South Africa as the 2010 host.

This might just be meant as a kick in the rear to spur on the South Africans, but it is looking increasingly doubtful that South Africa can manage to get it together in time. There is too much to do, and not nearly enough time to do it. In my view, if FIFA is going to switch the host country, it would be better to do this sooner, rather than later. They could acknowledge the time pressures, and simply promise South Africa the 2014 or 2018 Cup. This would allow the South African organizers the time to make the preparations in a more thoughtful manner, without spending huge sums rushing to meet the 2010 deadline. Moreover, FIFA is set to decide the location of the 2014 Cup tournament. It would be best to make that decision after FIFA has made the final decision to either cut or go with South Africa in 2010.

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