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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Champions League: How to Win When Your Goalie Gets Tossed Early

The answer is that you can't.

Arsenal battled mightily in Stade de Paris yesterday (this is the stadium that's on the highway from Charles DeGaulle Airport to downtown Paris -- it looks like a AAA baseball stadium, if you're measuring by U.S. standards), going one up on Barcelona despite having their goalkeeper, German star Jens Lehmann, awarded a red card eighteen minutes into the game for tripping a Barcelona attacker with his arm. (For the uninitiated Americans, that means a) that the player is ejected and b) you play a man down the rest of the game; you can replace your keeper, but you still play a man down).

In the late moments of the game, however, playing one man down finally caught up with the Gunners, as the Arsenal team is called. Barcelona rallied to score two late goals and take the cup.

Barcelona 2, Arsenal 1.

Ouch, for Arsenal fans.

I haven't heard debates on whether the call was fair, but this is tantamount to having a baseball ace ejected from the game in the second inning and replacing him with a long reliever, who is typically the eleventh man on an eleven-man pitching squad. It's the same as having Peyton Manning given the heave-ho in the first quarter and replacing him with Jim Sorgi. You get the idea.

Time, in all likehood, won't be on your side. The other team will smell blood, and eventually they'll get you.

It's not exactly the same as the analogy to American sports, but Arsenal suffered two blows. First, they lost their first-string keeper and had to insert a cold keeper, one who presumably didn't have much time to warm up. Second, they had to play a man down against one of the best teams in the world -- for 78 minutes plus injury time. Sure, you probably can do so and pull off a win against a team that's about to get relegated to a lower division, but to prevail against one of the world's best teams in the final game is almost impossible.

I am sure that those who designed the Champions' series didn't envision a circumstance like this. Still, Arsenal made the most of it and almost pulled off a victory, a feat that would have been as thrilling for the Gunners as it would have been embarrassing for Barcelona, which might have had to relocate to Bulgaria had they lost playing one man up for all that time.

Ejections in baseball happen with some frequency, and they are very rare in professional football. It's a shame that the Champions' League final had to end this way, but the rules are the rules, and the last time I checked, if you flagrantly up-end a striker in the goal area, well, that's a red card in all likelihood.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw the replay. The keeper definitely reached out and intentionally tripped the guy with his hand. Don't know if the rule for a red card is for a deliberate foul, or whether it's for trying to injure someone. If it's the former, it was a good call; if it's the latter, I don't think so.


12:34 PM  

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