April 16, 2005

The Road to Istanbul

Final Matches Since 2000
2005: Liverpool def. AC Milan 3-2 in a penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw, aet at Istanbul, Turkey
2004: Porto def. AS Monaco 3-0 at Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
2003: AC Milan def. Juventus 3-2 in a penalty shootout at Manchester, England.
2002: Real Madrid def. Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at Glasgow, Scotland.
2001: Bayern Munich def. Valencia 5-4 in a penalty shootout at Milan, Italy.
2000: Real Madrid def. Valencia 3-0 at Saint-Denis, France.

Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich
First leg - London: Chelsea 4, Bayern Munich 2
Second leg - Munich: Chelsea 2, Bayern Munich 3
Aggregate: Chelsea 6, Bayern Munich 5

The Blues, riding in their Premiership triumph back at home, face European veterans Bayern Munich. Though the Blues can be considered the better team, the Germans have more European experience, especially in Champions League action. Furthermore, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is barred by the UEFA to attend the two legs after a recent row during their first round legs with Barcelona.

The Blues, along with the Gunners, rather have a forgettable history in the Champions League. Bayern Munich meanwhile, is a multiple time champion, the last being on 2001.

With a two-goal lead at the beginning of the second leg, an opening goal by Chelsea can put them in front for good. And Frank Lampard did exactly just that, at the 30th minute.

With several missed goals from both Bayern and Chelsea, Claudio Pizarro finally put the home team at the scoreboard in the 65th minute.

However, even though as Bayern made two more goals at the final minutes, it was not enough as Chelsea advanced to the last four of the Champions League, facing the winner of the Liverpool-Juventus match.

The Rematch to End All Rematches: Juventus vs. Liverpool
First leg - Liverpool: Juventus 1, Liverpool 2
Second leg - Turin: Juventus 0, Liverpool 0
Aggregate: Juventus 1, Liverpool 2

The 1985 final between Juventus and Liverpool in Brussels, Belgium, was the saddest moment in European Cup history as 39 Juventus fans died.

Fast forward to 2005, this would be their first meeting since the Heysel tragedy. With Liverpool winning the first leg at home, Juventus needs to win the match at Turin for them to keep their Champions League glory alive.

At Turin, the two clubs missed several opportunities to score, and as time expired, no goals were scored, and Liverpool advances to meet Premiership rivals Chelsea at an All-England Semi-Final.

Inter-City Rivalry: Internazionale vs. AC Milan
First leg - Milan: Internazionale 0, AC Milan 2
Second leg - Milan: Internazionale 0, AC Milan 2 (Match abandoned in 75th minute)
Aggregate: Inter Milan 0, AC Milan 3

The inter-city rivalry reached a new boiling point as the draw pitted the two Milan clubs against each other at this classic Champions League semi-final.

While the first leg was uneventful, the second leg saw how bad hooliganism could get if the fans became too rowdy for everyone’s satisfaction.

Esteban Cambiasso hit the ball with a header. However, German referee Marcus Merk disallowed the goal, claiming that the Argentinean pushed an opposing player. The Inter fans didn’t like the call, and within seconds’ time plastic bottles, umbrellas and even flares began dropping on the pitch. The referee discontinued the match, and UEFA later ruled the match forfeited in favor AC Milan. Furthermore, Inter Milan would play the next European home games in empty stadiums, and was ordered to give a hefty fine. AC Milan qualified for the last four, facing either the French or the Dutch in their own Semi-Final.

PSV Eindhoven vs. Olympique Lyonnais
First leg - Lyon: PSV 1, Lyon 1
Second leg - Eindhoven: PSV 1, Lyon 1 (PSV won 4-2 on penalty kicks)
Aggregate: PSV 2, Lyon 2 (PSV won 4-2 on penalty kicks)

As all even-matched teams eventually end, 90 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of extra time weren’t enough. Kicks from the penalty spot were used to determine the winner, and the lucky team from the Netherlands beat the French champions to advance in their first UEFA Champions League Semi-Final in 17 years.

Semi Final Draw
Chelsea FC vs. Liverpool FC
The battle of English teams begins, in the European stage. Either Chelsea or Liverpool can have a shot at the trophy, which Manchester United last brought home during the 1998 season. Chelsea is currently leading at the English Premier League, however Liverpool has shown that they can beat Chelsea anytime, anywhere.
My prediction: Chelsea wins 5-3 on aggregate.

AC Milan vs. PSV Eindhoven
The Dutch would have a tough time beating the European longtimers AC Milan. But with the history of upsets (remember Deportivo and AS Monaco last year?), the Dutch can steal the semi-final for a North Sea Final encounter at Istanbul.
My prediction: AC Milan wins 6-2 on aggregate.

Which teams would face at Istanbul? It all boils down on who is hungrier and who is more determined. At least we can be assured of an English team at the Final at May 24. It is time for the Italians and the Dutch to slug it out to face either of the English teams at Istanbul, Turkey to be the newly crowned Champions of Europe.

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