Tuesday 15 October 2019

No sign of ugly side of the beautiful game

The brlliant Xavi Hernandez went out on a high in his final game for Barcelona
The brlliant Xavi Hernandez went out on a high in his final game for Barcelona

Dave Devereux

When Sergio Ramos saved Real Madrid's bacon with an injury-time goal to send last year's Champions League final against Atletico into extra-time, I watched the action unfold through half-closed, cloudy, tired eyes.

It was the second day of a stag weekend in Carrick-on-Shannon and everything was merry and joyous but also more than a bit hazy.

There was a plethora of pint swilling, spilling, banter and bad boogying - and all that was before lunchtime.

So by the time a rampant Real had pummelled their local rivals into submission in the additional 30 minutes, things had got slightly messy, ensuring any considered post-match analysis was at a premium.

This year's renewal was watched from the comfort of my own sitting room and through considerably more sober eyes, so I didn't have to contend with some dribbling giant in search of the bar standing in my way at a pivotal moment of the contest.

The first thing that struck me while viewing Saturday's battle of the European heavyweights was the questionable hairstyles; there were more dodgy barnets on show than at a boyband convention.

Never mind Arturo Vidal, it was more like a promo for Vidal Sassoon.

Thankfully the football was easier on the eye and the mohawks and quiffs proved to be a mere sideshow.

Although Barcelona bossed large parts of the match, the resilience of Juventus has to be applauded and it made for fascinating viewing.

With the game firmly in the balance at 1-1, Pogba did a Drogba by theatrically falling to the ground but seconds later Suarez felled the entire Juventus team by putting Barca back in front and capping a complete personal turnaround from the dank depths he wallowed in less that a year ago.

Although a couple of notches short of his imperious best, Lionel Messi was still better than most mere mortals, playing a big part in all three goals.

Throw Neymar into the mix and you've got the best three-piece since Nirvana.

Xavi coming off the bench to set the record for the number of Champions' League appearances in his final game for Barcelona was also a special moment, a last hurrah for one of the finest midfielders to grace the game before he's put out to pasture in Qatar.

The only blip in a dominant Barcelona performance was the below-par display of their goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegan, particularly with his hapless efforts at dealing with crosses.

We had Buffon in one goal and a buffoon in the other.

Football badly needed an uplifting final after the seemingly endless disgraceful, underhanded wranglings going on in Fifa being exposed.

The shot of Pirlo and Xavi sharing a joke after the final whistle was far more palatable than seeing Sepp Blatter smirking about Ireland's ill-conceived efforts to become the 33rd country in the World Cup.

Pirlo and Xavi, two wonderful players in the autumn of their careers, stand for what Fifa preach about but rarely practice - respect.

It leaves a sour taste in the mouth that the FAI have found themselves embroiled in this worldwide crisis, with the country's good name being dragged through the mud.

There may have been no corruption on the part of the Irish association, but at the moment you'd be better off being linked to ISIS than Fifa given their low standing and lack of credibility.

After a riveting battle like Saturday's Champions' League final it's easy to celebrate the positives of the game.

However, the dark dealings that go on at football clubs should not be swept under the carpet.

Saturday's protagonists are no strangers to scandal, with Juventus being stripped of their 2005 and 2006 titles and relegated to Serie B after the Calciopoli 'match fixing' affair and Barcelona's transfer of Neymar has been subject to much scrutiny.

That said, we can count ourselves extremely lucky that Juventus overcame Real Madrid in the semi-final because if the Spanish giants had progressed we would almost certainly have witnessed all that's wrong with the sport.

The diving, cheating, whinging and laughable play-acting that goes on in El Clasico is stomach-churning, so a meeting of Spain's big two definitely wouldn't have been a good advertisement for the game.

I used to love watching Spain's big guns going head-to-head but familiarity breeds comtempt and it's definitely true for this pair, and the occasion has suffered as a result.

Not that it was all love and not war with the Barcelona and Juventus players in Berlin.

In the main the game was played in good spirits but during a frantic few minutes in the second-half tackles were flying in quicker than outrageous insults from Joe Brolly.

Thankfully, like most of the challenges, the players couldn't have timed it better to produce one of the best finals in years, and the ugly side of the beautiful game was mercifully masked.

Wexford People