Thursday, May 7, 2009

Football's moral high ground

Chelsea were eliminated by awful refereeing, but for them to have gone through would have been an insult to football.

Chelsea are a disgrace. They didn't try and score at the Camp Nou, and eased off too much after scoring at home. Barcelona may only have had one shot on goal last night but it's all about taking the chances you're given. There's an away goals rule for a reason, and in this respect Barcelona handily win the "moral tie" because they tried and tried and tried to play their game, and it worked. For such an expensively-assembled Chelsea team to 'park the bus' is reprehensible and ignores the fact that football is a spectator sport where enjoyment and artistic expression matter almost as much as winning.

To be fair, the referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo, robbed Chelsea of an appearance in the final, despite Abidal's red card after Anelka's clear dive. Drogba, unlike his partner in attack, was on his feet for most of the game, and earned at least two clear penalties. When he's serious and focused he is an amazing player and an asset to any team, and he was for both legs. Then he squandered all the goodwill in a few crazed minutes.

Let's give credit where credit is due: Guus Hiddink had every reason to be frustrated yesterday, but he expressed it in a civilised, gentlemanly and respectful way. Despite his attempts to control his players failing, he is still one of few to emerge with any dignity after that shambles.

John Terry gets an even greater deal of respect from me for comporting himself in a civilised way after the game. He acknowledged that Alex was booked for a foul he himself had committed, which is remarkably forthright from any footballer. After the game, did he don flip-flops and scream at the ref? No, he went to the Barcelona dressing room, shook hands with the manager and his players, congratulated them and left quietly. Drogba and Ballack can learn a thing or two from their captain and their manager.

There are a number of things that are great about football: attack, fluidity, artistry, pride. The list goes on. Two teams from the four semi-finalists showed these characteristics, and it's proof that there is a God that they are both in the final.