Thursday, July 31, 2008
As a sport soccer heralded national pride and fostered community. Soccer was a unique community identifier. Take the vicious rivalry between the once famous Gor Mahia and AFC leopards for example. Back in the 60s to the early 90s these two teams were predominantly Luo and Luhya respectively. The Nyanza - Western province rivalry contributed a great deal to the supremacy of these sides. Back then it was a cardinal sin for a player of either team to switch sides to the opposition. The rivalry however did not hinder national unity; on the contrary it provided the unique motivation that eventually raised the standard of the game in Kenya. Evidently, the vast majority of the national team players were drawn from the squads of Gor and AFC. Next door in TZ we had Yanga and Simba which have since faded of. Further a field in Spain, the different regional identities and pride found its expression in the soccer arena. The Catalans and the Iberians have over the generations fought hard battles on the soccer pitch under the banners of Barcelona and Real Madrid. This perennial rivalry has been the special ingredient in the wonderful cocktail that Spanish soccer is.
So what has changed? A great deal has. The only thing that motivates players in today’s soccer is money. Players switch sides randomly when money is flashed with no regard to culture or identity. I must admit that my beloved Real has been a culprit in this by luring players with pay offers that few can say no to. Am convinced that this trend is dangerous for soccer and is what has largely contributed to the emergence of certain attitudes in the game. For example winning has become the top most and only agenda in soccer. Well it has always been priority but in the past, how you win was also very important. The unique playing styles that largely were expressions of different cultures are fading away. We see more speed & power than skill in soccer. It’s sad that speed and power is winning most of the titles at the expense of quality.
My thesis is that we need to redefine soccer. We need to inject that missing ingredient of identity. I am hopeful that all is not lost. Spain’s recent victory at Euro Cup proves that tradition still has a place in soccer. Spain did it their way - the same way they have always played. Hope lives on!
Monday, July 28, 2008
Though still smarting from the doubled tragedy of being unfairly denied the opportunity of participating in this year’s CAF Champions League tournament - for reasons not of their own making - and having their coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee being dropped acrimoniously as the national team head coach, Tusker have displayed great depth of their character by bringing the Cup back home where it belongs.
The fact that Ghost’s team was pitted against some of the regional big names including battle hardened home teams Simba and Yanga and still managed to prevail is truly something to take pride in. More startling is the fact that the home boys were on the road for over 12 hours and only arrived in Dar just within a few hours to the kick-off of their first match against Tanzania’s Simba.
It also struck me that coach Ghost Mulee has greatly matured in the game over the years if his inordinately modest and self-effacing attitude is anything to go by. Even in the face of resolute performances against some of the tournament’s big boys, Ghost resisted the overwhelming and self-destructive temptation of writing off the opposition, insisting that he was only going to celebrate after the job had been done.
Needless to say, this victory certainly evokes the fond memories of the year 2001 when the Harambee Stars, then still under the guidance of Ghost, annihilated the Kilimanjaro Stars 3-2 at the same venue to lift the coveted East and Central Senior Challenge Cup after a long wait of 18 years. Of course, many will fondly recall that it is in the same tournament that local crowd darling Dennis Oliech announced his arrival on the big stage of international football. Oh, what sweet memories!
Coming at a time when the Harambee Stars are on the rise too, Tusker’s success gives us more reason to be upbeat about the present state of our game. But we must not rest on our laurels, lest we slide back into the same old familiar murky pit. Before the World Cup cum Africa Cup of Nations campaigns resumes in September, our feuding federation officials must show goodwill and pay back in kind by lending our boys all the support they need to move to the next level. The ball is squarely on KFF’s court now.
Well done Ghost! You and your boys have truly made us proud to be Kenyans!
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The spiraling act of revolts is not anything new though. If my memory serves me well, during our days there used to be agelong traditions that every final year student felt compelled to observe just after sitting the last paper. It came in the form of showing open defiance to the school authority and quite often, the object of this hostility would be the extremely despicable Deputy Headmaster - the discipline master on most occasions.
Ideally, your average chap would deliberately engage in some kind of a misdemenour then blatantly refuse to take the punishment that came along with it. The more adventurous and daring fellow would go as for as partaking the forbidden ritual of setting ablaze all his documented literature in the full glare of his bemused teachers.
Of course all this was done on the presumption that the four year stint at the educational facility had been irrevocably terminated. But woe unto him who was not lucky enough to score good grades and found himself in the same institution a few months later seeking readmission!
A few weeks ago when former Arsenal man Alexander Hleb publicly lambasted his coach Arsene Wenger, his wayward actions bore a striking semblance to the rebellious attitude of these hotheaded secondary school misfits. Perhaps, Hleb too couldn’t resist the temptation of engaging in one final notorious escapade before setting sails for the Nou Camp.
But then, this being the unofficial holiday season in Europe, Hleb has found himself in the good company of other like minded comrades in crime that include the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Leonel Messi and Emmanuel Adebayor. It’s the season of high drama and everyone wants to provoke the authorities by doing something really whacky.
Take Adebayor’s case for instance. Though it may have escaped your memory, we are talking about the same player who only a couple of years back openly disregarded the stern warnings of his former club, AS Monaco, to link up with the Togolese national team for a training camp in the run-up to the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Predictably, not before long he was rocking Togolese apple cart too by challenging the authority of his Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi. A word of advice to the Gunners - cut loose the tether quick and let the guy become a problem to his new handlers wherever he chooses to go; the sooner, the better.
Then there is the saga of Hleb, who it seems can’t stop raving and ranting, in a deliberate effort to disparage his former club at every available opportunity. What I find most obnoxious is his attempt to lure other players to ‘follow’ him out of the Emirates stable. And what more, all his best friends now happen to be former Arsenal players.
Cristiano Ronaldo too has done tremendously well to estrange himself from a club that as recent as two months ago was alluding to him with all adjectives imaginable for his unprecedented heroics in the Premiership and Champions League campaign. How the times have changed! But they say a woman is the source of every man’s trouble. Ronaldo is no exception here. His steamy love affair with his Spanish heartthrob Nereida Gallardo seems to explain in part his current predicament.
His doublespeak too has also been quite phenomenal. At one moment all he wants is to be shipped off to Real Madrid because it’s the team he has always wanted to play for. The next minute he isn’t interested anymore apparently so because he is upset about his girlfriend’s alleged past involvement with his teammate to be Sergio Ramos.
Luckily for those who love scandals, the Ronaldo-Nereida drama has proved to be a timely and juicy rendition to the popular local soap Chinedu & Akinyi that has steady gained prominence in the box office since it premiered a while back.
Finally, I wish to put the big debate to a conclusive end. While everyone else is busy shopping, one team by the name Arsenal, that purports to be perpetually broke, seems to find it honorable to proclaim that they are a ‘selling’ team. Sell all you can but spare your longsuffering fans the emotional trauma of pretending that you can win the Premiership next season. Lest you forget, the issue has always been whether you guys can challenge Manchester United and Chelsea to the title. Ever wondered why? Just a food for thought to diehard Gunners.
Monday, July 21, 2008
But if the thankless job of a coach could vaguely mirror the merriment of going round and round in circles trying to beat the other competitors to the closest seat, the technicalities and intrigues that go along with the job is anything but child’s play. And given the guaranteed job insecurity of the profession, coaching is quickly becoming a globetrotting vocation that only the bighearted dare to undertake.
Inevitably, the aftermath of the Euro 2008 has been the flurry of movement by both club and national coaches across the continent. For some its a classic case of a push finally coming to a shove, yet for a few lucky ones, its either a case of making a big break and landing the highly coveted plum job or simply moving on to other alluring challenges.
For some strange reason, neither success nor failure has come out as the standard yardstick to prompt a change of guard at the helm, during this close season. Newly crowned European champions Spain together with Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands form the motley of countries that have opted to hire new coaches in the wake of their respective performances at Euro 2008. At the club level an almost similar trend has recurred at Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan and of course Ajax Amsterdam.
Fenerbahce bound Luis Aragones must be a happy old man having accomplished a feat that for so long eluded so many coaches before him from his native Spain . In as much as it’s common practice for victorious coaches to step down in honour and glory after achieving a conquest of this magnitude, I wonder what more would motivate a man approaching his septuagenarian years in the daily rigors of a job in which he literally has to supervise a bunch of playful charges as young as his own grandchildren. No offence here, but I would have thought the old man should be whiling away his time in the serenity of a seniour citizen’s home somewhere in Madrid.
Without a doubt, the big winner has got to be Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex Fergusson’s longstanding understudy at Manchester United. However, with limited experience at the national level only having had a brief spell with South Africa’s Bafana Bafana, I reckon what awaits Queiroz’s in Portugal is far from a sinecure. Vincente Del Bosque is the other man who has finally contrived a deserved and long overdue step-up into the big league of national team coaches. But with his appointment coming in the wake of Spain’s momentous achievement and the 2010 World Cup looming large, the former Real Madrid boss has his job well cut out right from the onset.
As for the losers, the name Marco Van Basten surely stands out. The shocking and acrimonious ouster of his Dutch team at the hands of Russia reduced the legendary AC Milan icon into a forlorn and disconsolate figure. But he too will have a much needed timeout as he cools his heels at his beloved Ajax Amsterdam.
Typically, as you would expect of Jose Mourinho, the ‘Special One’ has not hesitated to announce his return in a big way. Going by his quick overtures to his old boys at Stamford Bridge, Ricardo Carvalho and Frank Lampard, it seems he already knows which directions to look as he seeks to reinforce the Serie A reigning champions.
But the one thing that I still can’t explain though, is how AC Milan’s Carlo Ancelotti managed to evade the hangman’s noose after his team’s mediocre performance last season. All said and done, he’ll surely need his new signing Ronaldinho to quickly rediscover his magical touch of yesteryears for him to keep his job much longer.
(In memory of former Harambee Stars coach Reinhardt Fabisch who passed on last Tuesday in Germany. May the Almighty rest his soul in peace.)
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I have previously written an article here about how exposure to football at an early age in my neighbourhood’s dusty playgrounds evoked a deep and everlasting passion inside me for the game. It’s my wish to digress further and flip the other side of the coin – life in school and football.
After our estate team had been disbanded the only avenue left for us to play football was at school, which was actually a good thing for me and my brother Ted. We both attended St. John’s Primary School which happens to be in Kaloleni estate, a neighbourhood that has produced many football stars of the past and present. Kaloleni (or simply Ololo) was a football-mad estate dotted with numerous mini play grounds for the intra-estates competitions. But the most distinguished landmark, which stood like a colossus right in the heart of Kaloleni, was the City Stadium, the second largest football arena in town, then.
Quite naturally, even in school the number one pastime activity was football, since a majority of the kids were drawn either from Kaloleni or the neighbouring Makongeni (Okongo). And so at every slight opportunity we would engage in a kick-about – during PE lessons, at mid-morning break, during lunch time and even in the evening after lessons. The footballs that we used back then were basically made from polythene papers stuffed with papers then woven together with synthetic rope (every class had its own expert weaver of these footballs). Our football grounds were hardly demarcated and for goalposts we normally had huge boulders or other personal possessions like schoolbags or a heap of sweaters. Many are the times that there would be great contestation as to whether a ball had gone out of play or if the ball had gone in or sailed over the crossbar (our football matches were rarely officiated by a referee).
I have to be honest and state that in my class, I happened to be one of the fringe players who rarely made it into the first team sheet. But it’s a confession that I make without any shame or fear of reprisal considering that amongst my classmates was one Jeffrey Oyando, the veteran Tusker FC midfield supremo. Jeff came from a family in which football literally ran in the blood. His dad Joe Oyando (now deceased) a former international player was a long time technical bench member of Kenya Breweries FC (Tusker) and the national team Harambee Stars. As a pre-teenage lad Jeff was very strong on the ball and showed obvious signs of becoming a great player. And indeed he truly lived up to the expectation and joined Kakamega High, the former secondary schools soccer powerhouse, where he further honed his skills, before making a debut in the National League.
Another notable player in our class was Zablon Otieno (aka Odhis) who played for Gor Mahia in the late 90’s. Inspite of his seemly languid poise and fragile stature, his talent was undeniable. His main undoing was his penchant for persistently making loud complaints on the field to the chagrin of teammates and opponents alike. Then there was the stocky and bullish Alphonce Aloo who was two classes ahead of me and in the same class with Ted. Alphonce briefly turned out for KCB in the KFF Premier League in the late 90’s. Curiously, in my class was another notable chap - Fredrick Orieyo (aka Taabu) formerly a member of the national boxing team Hit Squad. Looking back in time, even then he possessed the same overbearing physical presence that in later years would turn him into such an intimidating opponent in the boxing ring. Surprisingly, back then, he seemed keener on kicking a ball than throwing a punch, though quite often he would also get himself into a nasty brawl or two.
That was back then, some 20 odd years ago. Now as I look back to those days, I get the conviction that my interaction with the likes of Jeff and Zablon, as peers, is what truly kindled my passion for the game.
To many undiscerning souls, it may have sounded odd, or even absurd, why Calderón would divulge such intricate details to Nadal, a tennis superstar, of all the people. While it maybe unknown to many, Rafael Nadal has always had a deep-rooted relationship with Real Madrid. Over the last couple of years he has become a distinguished guest at the Santiago Bernabéu, especially during those special matches . Ramón Calderón on his part, has always made it his priority to voice support for anyone who hails from Madrid . His omnipresence at virtually all the Grand Slam Finals that Nadal has featured in recently is a strong testimony to this. So now you get the sense behind Calderón’s loud whisper in Nadal’s ear.
So much of the Calderón-Nadal bonding. Of course its an acknowledged fact that the Spanish giants have perfected the art of wooing big names from all over Europe; remember the infamous Galacticos? Recently, the club has had its sight set on Portuguese star winger Criastiano Ronaldo, and for good reason. Despite drawing lambasting reactions from Man United they don’t seem likely to relent any sooner. But then, that’s just business. Speaking of business, the only place where business seems to be running is in the transfer market, with all the big names in Europe shopping out for the best quality available.
Nowadays, no single transfer is complete without a little bit of some controversy. Claims, accusations and counter-accusations have become the norm during transfer negotiations. And this season more than ever, there seems to be a protracted war over whose transfer saga raises the thickest dust. It’s still unknown whether Cristiano Ronaldo’s ankle operation will have done enough to put off his overzealous suitors. The lull in the Ronaldo saga however is likely to be overshadowed by other equally intriguing transfer stories, a majority of them involving Premiership players.
Without sounding too cynical, it has to be said that the zaniest of all is the one surrounding Togolese striker, Emmanuel Adebayor, who for all his inglorious misfiring qualities has managed to raise so much rubble at Arsenal. Honestly, this fellow is nothing but a largely overrated underachiever, his 24 league goals haul last season not withstanding. For him to put so much pressure on the club to the extent of even making ridiculous demands is simply laughable.
Then of course, there is the story of Frank Lampard, who Inter Milan is delicately courting. Typically, Lamps has remained very calm, leaving it to the Inter emissaries to engage in all the talking with his London club which in the past has equivocally stated that they are keen to keep him. As for Alexander Hleb, his doublespeak has left little doubt in the minds of many that his time at the London club could be over. I have a feeling that Belarusian is eager to have a change of scene.
Ironically while some players have continued to draw flattering offers from far and wide, others like Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o have only drawn blank cheques. Rejected alongside Ronaldinho and Deco following Barcelona’s systematic decline, Eto’o has not attracted much attention in the transfer market, strangely so for a player of his stature. While it remains to be seen who is going to end up where, Club President, Chief Executives and Coaches will continue haggling, horse-trading and buccaneering in the intensely competitive transfer market.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Last season, when Adebayor and Bendtner saw it best to square it out right in the middle of a game, both the Arsenal technical staff and players chose to downplay the infamous incident and no official explanations were given. Just for the records, many will remember that in that Carling Cup semifinal match, while the Gunners were busy feuding, Tottenham took advantage to give them a real hiding, 5-1 was the actually deficit; their worst of the season. But surely, what more would you expect from a ‘team’ that chooses to fight itself?
So now they are at it again. And am I surprised? Certainly not. The source of all the trouble this time round is Alexander Hleb, would you believe it? Apparently, the unsettled Belarusian has not been very happy lately with his manager, Arsene Wenger, over what he referred to as “his role in the team”. Now, that’s a common parlance amongst professional players, many of whom believe that they have a better knowledge of which positions, what and how to play their roles in the team. Quite understandable indeed from a player’s view point. What’s not understandable is where his Spanish teammate Cesc Fabregas came in. For him to have gone as far as branding his teammate a ‘selfish’ player, then am tempted to believe that the two must have been having a longstanding beef and Hleb probably just took the perfect opportunity to lash out at the Spaniard. Maybe that’s Hleb’s way of saying goodbye to an annoying teammate who always gets the all praises for your donkeywork. These guys are really good at washing their dirty linen in public, don’t you think?
Monday, July 7, 2008
Ever wondered how some of those little things that we do as children can significantly shape our adulthood leaving a profound and lasting impression in the later years? The other day I hooked up with my bro Ted after quite a bit of some time and naturally before too long our chitchat interestingly digressed as we nostalgically recalled our childhood years; all those memorable moments with their lows and highs slowly wafted back as we unwound the clock and went back in time…
I grew up and spent a better part of my childhood and teenage years in Eastland’s California estate - a neighbourhood made famous in recent years by Calif Records, the music studio that has propelled many of the celebrated rap artists like Jua Cali and Nonini to fame and stardom. Back then, there used to be an open field in this neighbourhood which was christened ‘Dezza’-aptly so because the ground surface, just like in a desert, barely had any patch on grass. In my own reckoning, Dezza was meant to have been a parking lot of some sort for the residents, but over the years it had been transformed into a mini-stadium for recreational and sporting activities that drew large audiences from other neighbouring estates. And how fortunate that Dezza was right behind our flat!
During those days kids from each flat would form football teams to compete against each other during school vacations. The team from our flat owed its existence solely to one enterprising lad who was slightly older than the rest of us. His real name was Edward but everyone simply knew him as ‘Shedu’. In essence, Shedu was the club-founder, owner, coach and team manager, all rolled up together. So much of an authoritarian was he that he would roundup all his players everyday after school and take them through rigorous training seasons. Now, that was back in the mid 80s and I was barely eight years. Naturally there were many family ties in our team; my elder bro Ted also happened to be my over-protective teammate. There were atleast four other pairs of siblings in the team, the most intriguing being Shedu’s younger brothers, Papa and Dudi. Dudi, our goalkeeper, was the younger yet the more influential and assertive of the two. At the time he was the skipper of the team and a few years down the line he would go on to take charge of the team as the player-coach when our coach Shedu finally quit his ‘job’ to concentrate on studies upon joining secondary school.
Sadly, our team was disbanded after a short but memorable existence when all the parents in the neighbourhood seemingly conspired in a secret pact to restrict us from engaging in our exciting boyhood escapades.
But that did not deter some of us who had already fallen in love with the game. In our household, football was a cherished subject. My dad loved listening to football commentary over the radio and with time it just rubbed on us. The first major football tournament that I can recall was the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico. That was the year Diego Maradona shot into the limelight with a virtuoso performance that earned Argentine its second World Cup trophy. Although, I have very little recollection of the tournament as a whole, I can still remember the final match between Argentina and West Germany, one of the best finals ever, which the South Americans won 3-2. The following year presented an even more enthralling football festival for us since everything was happening closer home. I was ten years then, and more conscious of my growing passion for the game. Instinctively, my brother Ted and I took the cue from dad, a great fan of Gor Mahia, and keenly followed the club’s memorable route to victory in the Africa Cup Winners Cup (Mandela Cup). At the end of the tournament, members of this wonderful class of ‘87 instantly turned into our childhood idols. In the same year
Thereafter I played, lived, ate, and slept football for all I cared about. I had desperately fallen in love with the beautiful game. Unfortunately, I’ve since lost contacts with entirely all my teammates from Shedu’s squad (save, of course, for my brother Ted who is also still equally enthusiastic about the game). As a result, I have spent many man-hours watching, discussing or writing about football – all engagements which I have undertaken with an unquestionable fervour. Those are the seeds that were sown in me from a very early age that have left me the passionate football fan that I am today.
To be continued…
After enduring an identity crisis for years, the proverbial ugly duckling has finally matured into a fine handsome swan. Class upstaged tradition last weekend when a vintage Spanish side shed off the unenviable tag of
While many had expected the final showdown to be a closely contested affair, with all due respect to the Germans, it has to be said that
German coach, Joachim Loew, overstretched his tactical approach in the hope that at some point the Spaniards would falter or make one grave mistake. That chance almost fell right on their laps in the opening exchanges when the otherwise blameless Sergio Ramos’ short pass right outside the box was intercepted by the lurking Miroslav Klose. But strangely, Klose somehow didn’t have enough poise to mete out the punishment and
Luis Aragones on his part opted for creativity, an attribute that quite evidently endeared his team to most of the neutrals over the period of the tournament. In the absence of eventual golden boot winner, David Villa, he handed out Cesc Fabregas a place in the starting lineup ostensibly to add more width to his already illustrious midfield. The move certainly paid off handsomely as the German midfield dynamo Michael Ballack was outfoxed while wide men Bastian Schweinsteger and Lukas Podolsky were critically starved of meaningful ball supply.
Paradoxically, in a game that the small-bodied Spaniards looked overawed by the German’s raw brawn it took the speed, strength and great anticipation of Fernando Torres to break the German resistance. Jens Lehman’s abilities had been abit suspect through out the tournament but the moment Phillip Lahm was beaten for pace it would have taken something really special for him to deny Torres from that sort of position.
Thereafter the Germans didn’t impress for a moment. Their set pieces, which they have often employed as a valuable tramp card, were horrible to say the very least. Not even their dreaded long range shots could do the trick, evidently so because the Spaniard simply didn’t give them any spaces within shooting range.
In the final analysis, while we can’t deny the fact that the best team ultimately won the tournament, its still in order to factor in yet another valid argument into the mix. For all their past failures and near misses there is one school of thought that has that Spain’s main undoing on the big stage has been as a result of regional loyalty that has superseded the national interest for the game. Its been said in the past that too much animosity within the Spanish football as a result of cultural, historical and political difference between the country’s various regions is to blame for the adverse counter effects on the national team’s ambitions.
But all is well that ends well. It is without any doubt that the image of Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas lifting the pristine Henri Delaunay trophy will remain etched in the memories of all Spanish fans for many years to come.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
At the start of Euro 2008 I made a partially correct prediction that Germany along side the Netherlands would make the finals because I fancied the uncommon blend of grit and flair to sum up the tournament.
Well, after exactly 22 days of uninterrupted football, save for 4 odd days split in half prior to and after the semi final matches, the final act of the 13th edition of the Euro Cup will be staged today at Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I dare say that the tournament has popped very few surprises to me. Other than the shocking 3-1 defeat of pre-tournament favourites, the Netherlands, at the hands of the industrious Russians all the other traditional power houses got only as far as would have been expected.
The Italians are renowned for their age long defense mentality but its high time they realized that tournaments are won by scoring goals. With just three goals for and four against in four matches, the Azzuris hardly justified their dignified position of the World Champions. The largely overrated Portuguese looked so vulnerable in set pieces that for a moment I doubted the credentials of Carvalho, Pepe and Fereira, all acclaimed defensive stalwarts. As for the hopelessly lousy French team, I have already given an elaborate synopsis of their poorly scripted plot, so I’ll save my breath.
But if some of the big boys disappointed, a handsome compensation package came in the form of Russia and Turkey, the two rank outsiders who came so close to stealing the show. After an initially slow start, the Russian lit up the tournament with sterling performances that left more fancied opposition like the Swedes and the Dutch reeling in their wake. My player of the tournament remains to be Roman Pavlyuchenko, the sharp shooting sniper from Moscow who had the Dutch defense in sixes and sevens in that memorable quarter final win. Escape artists, Turkey, rode the wave of their mental toughness and an extraordinary ability to wriggle free from tight spots. But one can never use the same trick once too often; their lack finally ran out when Schweinsteiger and company gave them a dose of their own medicine.
The two finalists, Germany and Spain, couldn’t have been more contrasting both in style and the dissimilar routes that they have taken to a final Vienna rendezvous. Typically, the Germans muscled their way with a combination of an intricate tactical game plan and unrivaled physically endurance. While their talismanic captain Michael Ballack has been their mainstay in midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger has plotted and delivered the final blows with remarkable precision. The only cause of concern has definitely been their ageing goalkeeper, Jens Lehman. The fumbles and soft goals that he has conceded are perhaps tell tale signs of prolonged layoff warming the bench at Arsenal.
In contrast, the smooth and seamless passing game of the Spaniards is enough testimony that after years of trying they have finally been able to overcome the stage fright symptom that often afflicts them on the big occasion. Its amazing that Luis Aragones seems to be spoilt for choices in the midfield where the exploits of Barca duo Xabi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have relegated midfield supremos Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso to the bench. All said and done, the final match today promises to be a titillating affair.