Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'd hate to be John Arne Riise right now

Yesterday Chelsea beat Liverpool to advance to the finals of the UEFA Champions League. Since Manchester United beat Barcelona earlier in the week, it will be an all-England final. Which I guess is really only cool if you're a fan of English football. Otherwise it's the equivalent of baseball's subway series, bay bridge series, or a (still-theoretical) L.A. gridlock series. Pretty interesting if you live in the town where it's occurring, but less engaging for everyone else in the world.

As you should be aware, I despise Chelsea. Loathe them. Hope that they'll be relegated and never contend for any title again. And now they're in the finals, and since they beat Man U over the weekend, are also contending for the double. And I'm sure John Arne Riise would love to have a mulligan. Literally seconds before the final whistle in the first leg, Riise scored an own goal, effectively giving Chelsea the advantage on away goals.

Yesterday's match was hard-fought, with Chelsea striking first on a stinger by Didier Drogba. Fernando Torres leveled the score, and there it stayed until the end of regulation. Liverpool were first to concede in extra time, which although a psychological blow, really didn't matter. They needed to score and if they did, could afford to concede one and still advance on away goals. Unfortunately, they conceded two in the first period of extra time. Liverpool got one back in the second extra period, but were unable to level, allowing Chelsea to advance.

Now both the Champions League as well as the Premiership are in the hands of the two sides who have dominated English football for the past three years. As an Arsenal supporter, this is hard to bear. My brother called me last week, before any of the Champions League semifinals, to ask me who I would support in the finals.

Chelsea was never an option. Liverpool would usually be his choice, but they've been to the finals twice in three years, and he felt like they'd had their turn. Barcelona is appealing at first blush just because Thierry Henry is there and it's hard not to support the former Gunner, particularly since his move to Barca was motivated by a desire to win the CL. But after attending a match at the Nou Camp, my bro was not impressed with the Barca fans and felt like they don't appreciate the talent they get to watch each game and certainly weren't the kind of people he'd wish to raise a trophy. Which leaves Manchester United.

As an Arsenal fan, is it even possible to get behind Man U and wish them success, particularly when they're vying for the double? When the alternative in both of those contests is Chelsea, the answer is a resounding yes.